I was visiting friends in San Juan La Laguna when I saw my friend’s weaving equipment in a corner of the porch. I asked her about how it is used and she decided to show me. She proceeded to find enough yarn to start a weaving project and we began to wind the yarn on the warping board. The warping board is simply a board with pegs to stretch the warp threads on so that they are a uniform length and orderly and ready to put on the loom.
Backstrap weaving has been done for centuries all over the world and in Guatemala is a very important part of the Mayan woman’s daily life and cultural identity. My friend, Petrona, worked so fast and made it seem so easy but when I tried to follow her and duplicate what she showed me I soon found it to be more difficult than I thought.
There are many separate processes to complete the weaving. Petrona couldn’t really explain to me why some things were done a certain way —- just that “this is one of the steps one must do!” It took us several hours to prep the yarn on the warping board and then get it on the loom. The next day she started showing me how to weave. Most women sit on the ground to weave but since that was so uncomfortable I used a small stool they had handy for me! It was a tedious project — learning the weaving steps— and we used a basic, easy weave pattern. After about 3 hours, I had about 4” of weaving done and a hurting back to show for my time. I know it will get easier in time, but for now it was impossible to remember all the steps for this simple scarf I was trying to weave. Petrona finished the scarf, since I was leaving in 2 days —– it took her about 15 hours of weaving to finish it. Backstrap weaving is definitely not quick art!!
After my attempt at this age-old weaving process, I truly appreciate the skill, patience and time it takes the Mayan women to make these beautiful weavings! Education And More purchases many weavings from four women’s groups, which gives the women an income to help support their families. All the profits we earn go back to Guatemala to help the schools and children. We always use fair trade guidelines when purchasing the textiles so that the artisan is the one who benefits the most.
If you are interested in joining an educational mission trip to Guatemala to learn about our work, see the country and learn the art of backstrap weaving, please contact us.